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The Daily Grind
A Cyc-o-path Loose in South America
A Motivational Book About Cycle Touring Through South America

A Book by Ranger Bob Bob Lutsky

"The only way to coast in life is down hill" - Zig Ziglar

Chapter Twenty

Machu Pichu and The Road To Lima

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I'm sad to think about how greedy and selfish the Spanish conquistadors were for not only did they destroy the ancient cities and stole all the gold and silver but they melted it down to use for coins. They saved nothing in its original form. Lost is all the delicate and fine filigree art work such as the world is unlikely to see again. The trip to Machu Pichu is one that no traveler will soon forget. I decided to leave the bike at the hotel and go by train and then bus. I met 2 Swiss guys who went with their bikes and said it was one of the most foolish things they ever did. Its nothing but near vertical stairs and cliffs and rocks and cobbles. Machu Pichu the sacred Inca capital is built on top of a steep hill, because of this it appears to be up high in the mountains where its actually 3000 ft. lower than Cuzco which lies in a bowl. Thousands of stone steps connect the temples and dwellings and storehouses that made up this ancient city. Huge terraces built on near vertical cliffs and used as gardens, made Machu Pichu an important agriculture center. As I look around at this place, seeing a jungle-like valley below and snowy glacier capped peaks above without turning my head. This place looks more like a environment for mountain goats or small sheep than for people. One of the great things about travel is it opens your mind up to new realities. Looking at this fine stonework and imagining what palaces must of been here, my mind wanders into fascination at just exactly what life must of been like living here at this time. Imagine dedicating your life to hand carved masonry, raising your own food and surviving on this mountain top.

I sitting here thinking to myself how did they manage to communicate with the people far away from here. Down in Nasca in the foothills, on the other side of the Andes, 300 miles of rough mountainous travel from here were stone carvings exactly the same as here. There were 150 foot long carvings and drawings in the earth, only visible by air, that resembled drawings found throughout the Inca Empire ( which stretched from Chile to Columbia ). Its also believed they had the ability to fly, for models of airplanes have been found, that closely resemble the design of aircraft we use today. The drawings which were used for communication could only be seen from the air. Even more amazing is that very similar pottery and other hand crafts have been found in other parts of the world, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The best book I've ever read on this subject and I highly recommend it, is called " LOST CITIES AND ANCIENT MYSTERIES OF SOUTH AMERICA " by David Childress .

Life is all about change and growth and as we travel, read and learn, we need to adjust ourselves upward. If you don't adjust your thinking and beliefs, as you become exposed to new realities, you deny yourself growth both mentally and emotionally, which will prevent further expansion. and you'll doomed to always cut the end of the ham off.

Don't rely fully on your senses to tell you what is right. Your senses tell you the earth is flat, and that its standing still. When we all know its not flat and is spinning at a 1000 miles per hour. Maybe the Incas did fly, maybe they did build an extensive came system that stretched from Chile through Peru into Brazil, just maybe northern Africa was the first to develop a modern society with the most extensive museums in the world full of fine intricate sculptures and paintings, and the Europeans plundered and destroyed everything and the Romans stole all their ideas and have been controlling history ever since. Life is about expanding on what we already know and learning to believe in other possibilities. If it isn't than what are we here for?

If anyone would like to engage in a battle of attrition, may I suggest cycling from Cuzco to Lima. Its 3 weeks and 800 miles of why am I doing this? There is no more Altiplano, that stops at Cuzco, from here on, the road crosses the Andes through the poorest part of Peru. The road out of Cuzco is well paved, climbs up over a small pass maybe 500 feet then down through the town of Anta. Then a few more ups and downs through Limatambo, a few more bigger ups and downs and into the city of Abancay. So far so good, if only the rest of this route was this pleasant, but then it wouldn't be as much fun to right about. Soon the road turns to what I call off road riding, piles of loose sharp rocks conveniently disguised under 3 inches of dirt with the consistency of powdered sugar. It feels like there are a million hands hidden under the road constantly trying to grab your tire bringing it to a halt, or jerking the wheel in an unsuspecting direction. This is especially exciting on down hills. Of course the special feature of this route is the sweat on your body acts as a type of glue, for all the fine dust from the powdered road, which forever engulfs your entire body as you cycle. This delightful process is amplified every time a truck or bus passes, sometimes I wish I could keep up to them, just so I can remain forever in the dust fog. These are a few of my favorite things!

For me the most depressing part ( as if things could get worse ) was the incessant ups and downs. Cycling an entire day, grinding out the inches, ( I say inches for it felt like I was cycling one inch at a time, the miles were too far apart to recognize ) climbing, climbing and more climbing up the steep rocky dusty road, covering only about 20 miles all day. The elevation gain would be on average between 5000 and 8000 feet up the never ending switchbacks only to have to do the same thing down the other side. If fact I think the downhills were harder than the ups. Hour after hour of painfully gripping the brakes, your body stiff as a board trying to feel where the next big clumps of rocks were. If that was all there was to it, it would be easy but noooo, mother nature with her infinite lack of mercy, has to bless the already half beaten intrepid traveler with 100 degree temperatures and swarms of small irritating biting flies with big nasty pointy teeth! My secret for weathering the long hours of persistent inconveniences was to sing over and over " Its a beautiful day in the neighborhood , its a beautiful day in the neighborhood, hello flies and rocks how are you today, can you say I'm starving and determined to knock you off your bike? VERY GOOD!"

Make no mistake, there were many positives aspects to cycling this region, I just never discovered them. No not true, this is perhaps one of the most beautiful places in Peru albeit one of the poorest. There is a sense of pride and intrigue one feels when traveling through a region rarely visited by tourists. Also there is an unusual curiosity of the local people who are not used to seeing foreigners. I feel like an alien from outer space, but come to think of it, I often feel that way at home too!

There was never a shortage of snow capped mountains, or apparently bottomless valleys, always changing color throughout the day, as the angle of the sun changed. Imagine if the Grand Canyon was twice as deep as it is, cycling down into it and then back up the other side, every day for 2 weeks. I think that best describes the road between Abancay and Lima.

The people of this area live in one room bamboo shacks with straw roofs, wear the same shirt every day for their whole life, own no shoes, yet seemed as happy as a pig dipped in mud. On the edge of each town was piles of smelly rubbish acting as a food trough for dogs, cats, birds and every other animal fit for eating. I also saw lying along the sides of the road, an unusual number of dogs who were unlucky in their attempts at chasing cars and busses creating the most pleasant aromatic environment I didn't come to Peru to be comfortable, I came to see and experience how the people throughout the country live on a day to day basis.

At the higher altitudes the air was fresh and clean and there was plenty But on this stretch I took no chances. In an effort to regain my health, I cooked all my own food, limited my diet to oatmeal, bananas, bread, cooked vegetables, pasta, rice and tea. All my water I purified with tablets or boiled first. I made sure I spent at least 10 hours a day sleeping or resting, something I almost never do. This seemed to help, at least in the sense that I didn't get worse, for my strength and every level is running at about 70%. I estimate that I walked the bike about half the time during these two weeks, again, like Patagonia, to relieve the frustration of the bad road and to utilize different muscles.

As difficult as cycling in this area sounds, it was easier than Patagonia. Nothing saps your energy like the wind. The wind is loud, disruptive, and whisks away all your internal resources of strength. Here, the mountains take it out of ya, with demoralizing up and downs, so much work for nothing it seems, but at least you could relax, when you stop, eat, have a pee, cook, and sleep. In Patagonia you had to keep your adrenaline going all the time to fight the monster. Here you can relax. Even when cycling you could take it slow and enjoy the flies and the smelly garbage. Easier in the sense that the flies provided the incentive to climb the next hill.

Using the same type of reasoning, you find that it's easier to cycle up-hill than down-hill on an unpaved road. So much of life is paradox and contradiction. One of the reasons why it's more difficult to cycle down-hill is that on bad hills it's more dangerous. Your fingers seize up from squeezing the breaks for so long and you must continuously focus all your concentration on the road. If you even so much as look over your shoulder for a second, it could result in some serious injury. Of course, if you have to focus on the road, you will miss the scenery! Going up on the other hand is peaceful, quiet, you can look around and it's so much easier to stop for a break or a moment of reflection.

It's a hard two week cycle to cover the 415 miles from Cuzco to Ayacucho. Ayacucho is the capital of this region and former home to the Guerilla movement known as the Shining Path. For decades this murderous group was in the news scaring people away from visiting Peru but the government put a permanent end to their existence in 1993. Sadly, the history of this region history continues to keep tourists away from this part of the country, but hopefully, over time and with the eventual paving of this bloody road that will slowly change.

After Ayacucho the road improved somewhat and eventually turned to pavement, easing the frustration of the past two weeks. And the colors of the mountains became even more brilliant, with the mineral rich rock and soil exposing their true colors. Copper a bluish green and iron, orange-ish in color and some blues, reds and browns which really came alive at sunsets. The road climbs to over 15,000 feet which means cold, cold, cold, although not as cold as Bolivia. It seems colder than it really is because of the extreme heat in some of the valleys experienced only the day before. I think I'm finally ready to get back to more level cycling and to meet up with someone. The lonelies are starting to catch up with me. Everyday its up at 8am break camp, cook breakfast, collect and treat water, pack everything up and cycle all day alone, find a spot to camp, unpack, set up camp, cook dinner, eat, do dishes, read, sleep, wake up, repeat. I really do love it, but ......

Hey what's this, a German guy cycling towards me with 2 kayak paddles attached to his front panniers like flags on a general's jeep! We met in the middle of the road and all I could say is WHY? He said he did some kayaking in Mexico and couldn't find anyone to buy it, so thought why not just take it and do some kayaking along the way. I looked around at the bone dry barren landscape and then at him and said your in luck, just 4000 miles down this road you'll find the great fjords of southern Chile! He said that's where I'm headed. I asked if he had done any kayaking since Mexico? His response " not as such ". I was going to say why didn't you have someone mail it to ya when you get there but then I remembered how reliable the postal system is and kept quiet. Another thing I notice about this fellow alien was that he had skinny racing tires, perhaps as rare and equally practical as the kayak for this stretch of road. I politely asked if he was familiar with the road of attrition that lie ahead. He said that he was and if he takes it slow all should go well. I described my experience to him and gave him my address and implored him to write to me and let me know if he makes it. I'll never be shocked at someone else's choices again, Matt wrote me from Chile where his is now doing some sea kayaking in Tortel. He made it all the way with only 2 punctures and 2 broken spokes! There is no such thing as strange, just different.

After that brief little interlude of comic relief, the road deteriorated again and went back to more up and downs, into the city of Huancayo where I got a hotel and 14 hours of solid sleep. From here it was a breeze down into the dreadfully awful city of Lima, with a population equaling that of Chicago. The city suffers from six months of gray skies, low cloud and drizzle, with cool temperatures, in the 60s. The pollution level is very high from all the busses running on leaded fuel spewing out black exhaust and no wind to disperse it. I spent 2 days cycling around the city center. Lima has some fine sculptures, impressive architecture, interesting museums and some really friendly people if you take the time to seek them out.

Lima is also known for its crime. My only encounter with such was while I was eating in the market. My bicycle was behind me as I ate, and for some reason I turned around to check on it and noticed a hand come up from the floor behind a wall and enter my handlebar bag. I jumped up and yelled in Spanish why are you stealing from me, and in anger I grabbed his face with both my hands and shoved his head up against the wall rather forcefully. I think he wet his pants at this instance, he dropped my Swiss army knife, with a few other items, and said he was sorry. I let him go and he quickly ran away. Being a foot taller and wearing a helmet ( which I almost never take off ) I feel stronger, more confident and less vulnerable than I do in the states. Without a second thought I returned to the counter and finished my dinner, paid my check and then cycled away.

In all of my 12 years of traveling I've never had any serious problems, knock on wood. As a matter of fact the only time I was ever held up was in Pittsburgh.

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